Looking back at Enron and the net in 2000

Enron: even now is a byword for dodgy dealing and corruption. Back in the summer of 2000, Enron was a large respectable corporation.  Three people came over from Portland, Oregon to London. They looked to pioneer a new way of thinking about broadband capacity and they came to Europe to do peering agreements and business deals. They were ‘Enron Broadband Services’.

The whole thing was moving at ‘internet speed’, which is a euphemism for crazy fast and with money flittered everywhere.  So I ended up working agency side arranging everything from pre-paid mobile phones to a dinner for 150 internet geeks at The Hempel – a luxury hotel with a minimalist restaurant that used to be in Bayswater.

Enron acquired Portland General Electric (PGE) back in the mid-1990s. This was part of Enron’s play in deregulated electricity markets. With PGE also came an optical fibre network. The company had been dropping fibre into the ground every time it did reinstatements. Enron then built and leased optical fibre from the likes of Level3.

 

While I was trying to get these guys in front of the European telecoms press I was hearing from my media contacts that Level3 were actively briefing against them, saying that their business model was full of shit. They were right it was. Enron Broadband Services depended on their ‘Enron Intelligent Network’ a set of proprietary technologies that was supposed to prioritise traffic for quality of service and commercial traffic reasons.

Like many things at the time the technology was less developed than one would believe. Much of the functionality replicated existing technology such as MPLS. IBM developed their e-commerce offering on the back of ‘suckered’ customers like Boxman.com. Technology was a sketchy business at the time; but it seemed to matter less as the world was being changed. This was pre-9/11 and Gap was convincing many people that khakis were cool.

In the case of IBM, they seem to be still doing similar practices two decades later; this time with their Watson machine learning offering.

The problem was that the ‘Enron Intelligent Network‘ was a relatively minor sin compared to everything else that was going on in the corporation.

What happened to the companies mentioned in the Enron slides?

  • ARC
  • Atom Films – Founded in 1998, Atom was bought in 2006 by MTV Networks, Google had considered buying it when it eventually purchased YouTube. Eventually it was absorbed into Comedy Central
  • Avici Systems – was hit hard by the dot com bust. It eventually pulled out of the core network router business and changed its name to Soapstone Networks
  • Ciena – Ciena still exists as a networking equipment and software company. It managed to ride out the dot com bust by diversifying its portfolio of networking equipment
  • Cisco Systems – continues to be one of the world’s largest companies in networking equipment
  • Compaq – never managed to fully integrate its acquisition of the Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) and ended up being acquired by Hewlett-Packard. In 2015; Hewlett Packard split into two businesses. HP held the PC, printers and related businesses. Hewlett Packard Enterprise contained business software (subsequently merged with Micro Focus), services business (merged with Computer Sciences Corporation) and a hardware business.
  • CountryCool.com – started as a country music site and seems to have morphed into an analogue of Comedy Central
  • The Drew Carey Show – ABC situation comedy that finished its run in 2004
  • EasyStreet – ISP that is still going, mostly reselling other vendors products
  • Epoch Internet – was the first tier one ISP on the west coast when it was founded in 1994 and played a crucial role in some of the first commercial peering points. It was eventually acquired by MegaPath in 2004. MegaPath in turn is owned by Fusion Connect, who were recently acquired by Birch Communications Inc. as part of a further consolidation of business ISPs in the US
  • Firstworld
  • FlashNet – FlashNet now only exist as a legacy domain that AT&T supports for customers. FlashNet Communications was founded in 1995 as a Fort Worth, Texas-based internet service provider. It had an IPO on the NASDAQ in March 1999 and was acquired by Prodigy Communications in November that year. Prodigy was acquired by AT&T in September 2001
  • FYINet.com – FYINet was a Houston, Texas based company that provided training materials on CD ROM about networking technology. They then moved their content to the web and promoted their 3D animation and interactive design capabilities. They seem to have disappeared sometime around 2002.
  • GST Telecommunications
  • GTE Internetworking – GTE Internetworking became Genuity when its parent company merged with Bell Atlantic to found Verizon. It was eventually acquired by Level3, which was in turn acquired by CenturyLink 2017
  • Inktomi- Inktomi was one of the leading providers of web caching for both content and streaming. It became a key provider for early content delivery networks. It was eventually acquired by Yahoo! in 2003. Yahoo! was acquired by Verizon and merged into Aol as part of Oath
  • iStream TV encoding – iStream continues to provide solutions for both video on demand and live streaming. Turner acquired a majority share in the business during 2015
  • latinsoccer.net – Mexican based site that covered Latin American football news. It featured both video and audio which wasn’t the norm for the time. According to Archive.org’s Wayback Machine, the site didn’t survive the dot com bust
  • Lucent Technologies – acquired in term by Alcatel and Nokia
  • MShow.com – Chicago-based Mshow provided interactive broadcast services. It was founded in 1986, had one round of funding in 2000 and is no longer in business
  • NetRail – provided backbone networks and hosting to ISPs. It was acquired by Cogent Communications Group in 2001
  • NextVenue – specialised in video and audio streaming, it was acquired by iBEAM Broadcasting – a satellite networking company. iBEAM went under in 2002, its assets were acquired by Williams Communications LLC. Williams is now owned by Level3
  • Oracle – Oracle remains a leading provider of enterprise software
  • OrcoNet.com – was a US ISP, eventually filed for chapter 7 bankruptcy in California
  • pdq.net – was an ISP. It was acquired by Internet America. Internet America was acquired by JAB Broadband and folded into Rise Broadband
  • Q4i.com – defunct online brokerage with video component for independent brokers
  • RCN – Boston-based ISP that has gone on to become the sixth largest cable and broadband provider in the US
  • rmi.net – Rocky Mountain Internet was an early provider of dial-up connectivity. It moved into e-business for SMEs and eventually became part of EarthLink, which went on to consolidate with Windstream
  • showdigital – provided broadband to the hospitality industry. Its assets were acquired in 2001 by STSN
  • Sun Microsystems – Sun Microsystems never managed to recover from the dot com bust and was eventually acquired by Oracle. Oracle now sells its own brand of hardware that can run Solaris UNIX – Solaris is now owned by Oracle who continues to maintain it alongside a distribution of Linux
  • Sycamore Networks – Sycamore Networks was wound up by its shareholders in early 2013. During the internet boom it had a market capitalisation of $44.8 billon. It was worth just $64 million when wound up.
  • TeleCommute Solutions – Atlanta based ISP that specialised in providing workforce connectivity to companies. Crunchbase lists it as closed
  • Telescan – founded in 1982 as a provider of stock charting tools, it eventually became part of TD Ameritrade’s Thinkorswim
  • TotalCricket
  • USWest – one of the original ‘baby Bells’. It merged with Qwest in 2000. Qwest was acquired by CenturyLink in 2011
  • Verio – founded as an ISP in Denver. Acquired by NTT of Japan in 2000
  • VillageNet – small Canadian ISP which is still running

ICYMI | 万一你错过了| 당신이 그것을 놓친 경우

How A Cartel-Linked Murder Rocked A Wealthy Dallas Suburb | Texas Monthly – a great read. The painstaking research of the stalkers is like something out of The Wire. It also brings home how much telematics have fallen in cost and user complexity over the past two decades

Why Yahoo Japan Needs to Be Part of Your Search Strategy for Japan – my advice would be don’t be a cheap SoB and pay for a decent SEO agency based in Japan, so that they can look at content strategies and link placement across the different sources that Yahoo! Japan Search uses. This guide just opens you up to the kind of possibilities there, but is no substitute for a local team

Qualcomm CEO thinks Apple will eventually be a customer again, despite escalating legal battle | 9to5Mac – There’s less to these than meets the eye, beyond Qualcomm wants to make Apple it’s prison bitch

WhatsApp Founder Speaks, EU Deception?, Facebook Ideology | Stratechery  – probably one of the best reads about founders and Facebook.  What gets me is that this is news. Eight years ago in tech circles the term zucked – a portmanteau of (Mark) Zuckerberg and fucked was already in common enough use for me to blog about it.  Facebook has demonstrated this time-and-time again to consumers, partners, acquired businesses and even government and regulatory bodies. When do they get their Judge Jackson moment a la Microsoft? The main point of interest is how closely aligned Sheryl Sandberg and Mark Zuckerberg in terms of their collective moral turpitude

How China Systematically Pries Technology From U.S. Companies – WSJ – China isn’t going to change this conduct, any more than the United States were willing back when Charles Dickens and Rudyard Kipling were  complaining about book piracy in the New World. China is already putting in strong protection for domestic intellectual property, but unlike the US, there is no sign that they will ever support foreign IP rights as they pursue a mercantilist imperial agenda globally

Spotify’s Big Tencent Risk [Mark Mulligan] – hypebot

How China’s army of online trolls turned on Sweden | Abacus – I am surprised that Facebook allows groups that are organising way stations to remain on the platform. It fits into a wider narrative that Facebook is facilitating and profiting from the weaponising of the web by Russia/China etc. etc. I don’t think Sweden will be that sympathetic to Facebook lobbyists when they come complaining about EU overreach.

“Swiped” HBO documentary – director Nancy Jo Sales explains why swiping on Tinder is addictive – Recode – great read, you could probably say similar things for scrolling through Instagram or a Facebook feed

How to use RSS?

How to use RSS – isn’t a question that I thought would be ever asked. I put together a guide some eight years ago and had been meaning to update it for a while. I was reminded to do this by Wadds recent post on RSS. I realised  there is likely a whole generation of netizens that hadn’t used RSS; or had used Google Reader and didn’t have a clue about what under-pinned it and how it could be useful.

RSS is dead‘ is a myth beloved of the social networks that want to spoon feed you algorithmically sifted world views. This myth has leaked into web development circles and I have had to fight with development teams to keep in support for the standard.

Put simply RSS is like a ticker tape for the web that allows you to get updates about new articles posted on websites.

I started off using RSS readers with NetNewsWire. NetNewsWire was an application  that developed a swift cult following on Mac OSX. This would have been late 2002. I immediately saw the benefit as a PR person, having the news come to me, rather than having to go do a round robin of a list of sites in my browser bookmarks.

An RSS reader allows you to:

  • Collect updates from 100s of sites that you wouldn’t otherwise have time to get around
  • Read a precis of these updates
  • Organise sites into folders

At the time, only calendar, address book, email and task information synced across my work and home computers. I had only just got mobile email on a Palm PDA that connected into a Nokia 6310i via a data cable using Palm’s Mobile Internet Kit. This only allowed me to access a limited amount of the web but no RSS. This only worked with my personal email.

The problem with NetNewsWire was that there was no sync. If I read RSS at work I would then have to clear it again at home. I got around this by dragging my laptop into work and using the guest wi-fi network access. But this was misinterpreted by management.

I started using Bloglines an online RSS reader. This was eventually squeezed out of business by Google Reader. In 2013 Google killed Reader to try and force people to use the algorithmic feeds on Google+. Aside from destroying a large audience of RSS users; the cunning plan failed.

Google Reader was an RSS reader with some proprietary features including bookmarks. I decided against using Google Reader and went with Fast Ladder – which was run by Livedoor, a Japanese company. Livedoor eventually saw its CEO go to jail for securities fraud.

Since then I have been using Newsblur. Newsblur has a couple of unique features that put it head-and-shoulders above rivals like Feedly, theoldreader or Inoreader :

  • You can train the reader to highlight or hide posts that aren’t of interest
  • It provides three views: text-only (great for speed), feed and the article as it appears on the web page ‘in-situ’
  • It offers seamless integration with the pinboard social bookmarking service
Navigating your way around Newsblur

This is what the home screen looks like

Newsblur in use

What is an OPML file? If you’ve already used an RSS reader, an OPML file is a standard export file format that allows you to move from one RSS reader to another. The Goodies and Apps option gives you a bookmarklet that you can add to your browser to add new sites that you want to follow and links to apps for Mac and mobile platforms. On the desktop, using the web interface is best. On mobiles the app is pretty much obligatory to use.

Click into a folder and start reading

Newsblur home page

Keyboard shortcuts cheat sheet
Newsblur shortcuts

Preparing the ground for being a brand on social media

Master TV Control Room 2

In order to get a brand on social media it isn’t about dropping brand assets on social channels but thinking about what it actually means. Distillation of this process is likely to appear on a document:

  • It contextualises why social, there must be a business and brand reason to be there beyond ‘well everyone is on Facebook’
  • An explanation of how to use the document. Those involved need to view the document as a ‘north star’ for social. It needs to be clear that the document is a set of guidelines, but not immutable
How the brand manifests itself on social:
  • What’s the brand’s tone of voice on social media channels. Does it want to want to sound like an everyman, does it want a bit of distance and gravitas,  does it want to be an authority on a given area?
  • What’s the personality? If it was a person, what kind of person would it be. This frames the content, what questions it will answer and the view point that it will take. It’s adding extra dimensions that won’t necessarily be applied in public relations, print or even TV advertising due to the nature of social channels
  • What are the content pillars? Think of this as the core messages. Every piece of content created and shared will demonstrate at least one pillar. These are typically things like organisation innovation, heritage, values, point of leadership (thought leadership, authority / expertise, style leadership etc)
Cross channel rules:
  • How will you handle hashtags
  • How ill you handle localised domain names? (Will their be local domains?)
  • Who has the right to publish what first? For instance if you look at sports brands like Nike or New Balance; you’ll see that soccer related content first appears on their specialist football channels
  • Should local channels link back to ‘global accounts’?
  • Are there any sponsorship or IP-related watch outs? When I worked on New Balance; any club kit related content had to feature a minimum of three players. Otherwise there would be problems with the players other sponsors (notably their boot sponsors and their agents who would be looking for another pay day). Who needs to approve use of sponsorships and how long will approvals take? Can you do a flow diagram to provide insight into the process? How do you handle successes or set backs of partners?
  • How do you handle rumours and speculation? (New iPhone launch or renewal of sponsorship deal with Tiger Woods)
  • How do you handle images that might have a competitor brand in shot?
  • Do you ignore controversial news?
  • Will you share partner content? What channels and handles are legitimate partner content to share?
  • What kind of tools will you put in place? Large brands often use an intermediary platform like Percolate that provides measurement, asset management and an approvals workflow as needed. It even allows the localisation of content by the local brand team
Social channel-specific rules
  • How often will you post on a  given channel? This might be dictated to you by the kind of account you have on some channels like WeChat. With most others it will be driven by audience content consumption. Twitter generally lends itself to more frequent posts than Instagram or Facebook
  • Specific channel aims over the coming year
  • How will the channel be used? Are there particular segments that it is good at reaching?
  • What kind of content can be published? Example content categories. Best practice executions from other (non-competing) brands to get best practice ideas
Social crisis response
  • Crisis like accidents have an incident funnel marked by small events, the more of these that happen, the harder it is to climb out of the funnel.  The trick is to limit these before they take you down the funnel.
  • Have a clear workflow in place to handle negative criticism. The US Air Force had a really good workflow to borrow from.
  • Real-time monitoring should highlight things before they escalate. How is this intelligence distributed and to whom?
  • Who is going to be part of the decision group, you’ll likely need people from: customer services, product expert, public relations, management. How will you ensure that employees and the supply chain speak with one voice?

 

The influencers post

Mark Ritson wrote an op-ed over at Marketing Week on influence and influencers. Whilst it lacked nuance on the subject area, a lot of what it said is true. Go over and have a read; I’ll be waiting for when you come back.

Whilst I disagree on the finer points, what Ritson wrote needed to be said. There needed to be a turning of the tide on influencers from boundless optimism to a greater degree of sobriety and critical analysis of the influencer opportunity.

I first noticed this boundless optimism when I attended the In2 Innovation Summit in May last year.  Heather Mitchell on a panel. Mitchell worked at the time in Unilever’s haircare division where she is director, head of global PR, digital engagement and entertainment marketing. I asked the panel discussing influencer marketing about the impact of zero-based budgeting (ZBB) and the answer was ducked. ZBB requires a particular ROI on activity, something that (even paid for) influence marketing still struggles to do well.

This was surprising given the scrutiny that other marketing channels were coming under, I couldn’t understand how influencer marketing merited that leap of faith.

This time last year I noted:

Substitute ‘buzz marketing’ for ‘influencer marketing’ and this could be 15 years ago. Don’t get me wrong I had great fun doing things like hijacking Harry Potter book launches when I worked at Yahoo!, but no idea how it really impacted brand or delivered in terms of RoI. Influencer marketing seems to be in a similar place.

Just five years ago we had managed to get past the hype bubble of social and senior executives were prepared to critically examine social’s worth. In the meantime we have had a decline in organic reach and massive inflation in both ad inventory and influencer costs. What had changed in the marketers mentality?

Onward with Mark Ritson’s main points.

Ritson’s Three Circles of Bullshit

A very loose reference to Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy trilogy; but for modern marketers

The First Circle of Bullshit: Are the followers real?

  • Are they bots?
  • Are they stolen accounts?
  • Are the user accounts active any more?
  • Has the account holder padded their account with bought followers and engagement. Disclosure – I ran an experiment on my Twitter account and still have a substantial amount of fake followers. More on this experiment here.

The Second Circle of Bullshit: Are influencers trusted?

  • Ritson did an unscientific test that showed (some) influencers would post anything for a bit of money

The Final Circle of Bullshit: Do they have influence?

  • Some influencers are genuinely authoritative; but this is a minority of influencers out there
  • Ritson alludes to the lack of organic reach amongst an ‘influencers’ followers which is likely to be 2% reach or less
Trends in influence

I looked at Google Trends to see what could be learned in the rate of change in searches over time. Consider Google Trends to be an inexact but accessible measure of changes in interest over time.

Global interest in influencers have been accelerating

Influence: Google Trends

There has been a corresponding rises in interest around paid influencer marketing

Influence: Google Trends

There hasn’t been the same interest peak in organic (PR-driven) influencer work

Influence: Google Trends

All of which supports the following hypotheses:

  • it’s become on-trend from the perspective of marketers, agencies and ‘influencers’
  • A significant amount of influencers are in it for the money – which brings into question their (long term authority and consumer trust)
  • A significant amount of influencers have an exceedingly good idea of their value (more likely overly-inflated)
  • Ego is less of a motivator for becoming an influencer than material gains
What would influence look like?

Propagation of the content by real people. Instagram, a particularly popular influencer channel, has made sharing posts difficult for followers historically. Re-gramming was a pain in the arse for the average Instagram user.

Slide4

If we look at the mainstream media and how it is shared on Facebook we see that only five media brands are consistently in the top ten most shared media properties. ‘Traditional’ influencer status isn’t necessarily a garrantor of consistent successful propagation either, if Newship’s data is to be believed.

Attributed sales. Some luxury brands in China have had success collaborating with influencers and selling through their channels; the post child being Mr Bags collaboration with Longchamps.

How is the best way to use influencers in marketing?

Assuming that you are using influencers in the widest possible sense at the moment.

Treat the majority of influencers as yet another advertising format

That means that reach, the way the brand is presented, and repetition are all important – smart mass marketing following the playbook of Byron Sharp.

  • Viewing your influencer mention in that prism, it means estimating what the real reach would be (lets say 2% of the follower number as an estimate) and paying no more on a CPM rate than you would pay for a display advertising advert
  • Ensure that the brand is covered in the way that you want. Some luxury brands have managed to get around this by keeping control of the content; a good example of this is De Grisogono – a family-run high jewellery and luxury watch brand. They work with fashion bloggers that meet their high standards and invite them to events. De Grisogono provides them with high-quality photography of its pieces and the event. They get the  high standard of brand presentation which raises the quality of the placement
  • Get repetition with the audience by repeating the placement with other content that delivers the same message with the same high standard of production

All of this might work for a luxury brand, IF you found that the amount of agency time and creative work made commercial sense. It is less likely to work for normal FMCG brands. What self-respecting influencer is going to be bossed around by a breakfast cereal?

Thinking about micro influencers, probably the area that has had the most interest from marketers recently due to them appearing to be better value than macro influencers.

Brown & Fiorella (2013) explanation of micro-influencers:

Adequately identifying prospective customers, and further segmenting them based on situations and situational factors enables us to identify the people and businesses – or technologies an channels that are closest to them in each scenario. We call these micro-influencers and see them as the business’s opportunity to exert true influence over the customer’s decision-making process as opposed to macro-influencers who simply broadcast to a wider, more general audience.

Brown & Fiorella focus on formal prospect detail capture and conversion.

This approach is more likely to work in certain circumstances; where there is low friction to conversion (e-tailing for discretionary value items).

It starts to fall apart when you deploy their approach to:

  • Consumer marketing
  • Mature product sectors
  • Mature brands

You would also struggle with many B2B segments where social provides a small reach and little social interaction.

Work with real influencers on long term collaborations
  • There is more likelihood of having audience trust if they can see and understand the long term relationship between a brand and its influencers
  • Better brand placement easier, with an influencer that ‘gets’ the brand
  • You’ve got a better chance of being able to get access and fully understand the underlying analytics of their accounts (which should be a prerequisite for long term relationship)
  • You can look at collaborations and attribution payment models that raise all boats
  • You can lock out rivals out of relationships
More information

Mark Ritson: How ‘influencers’ made my arse a work of art | Marketing Week
Edelman Digital Trends Report – (PDF) makes some interesting reading
Instagram Marketing: Does Influencer Size Matter? | Markerly Blog
Influence Marketing: How to Create, Manage and Measure Brand Influencers in Social Media Marketing by Danny Brown & Sam Fiorella ISBN-13: 978-0789751041 (2013)
Facebook Zero: Considering Life After the Demise of Organic Reach
Quantifying the Invisible Audience in Social Networks – Stanford University and Facebook Data Science
PLOS ONE: Detecting Emotional Contagion in Massive Social Networks by Lorenzo Coviello,Yunkyu Sohn, Adam D. I. Kramer,Cameron Marlow, Massimo Franceschetti, Nicholas A. Christakis, James H. Fowler
Senior Execs Not Convinced About Social’s Worth | Marketing Charts
Measuring User Influence in Twitter: The Million Follower Fallacy – Cha et al (2010) – (PDF)
Visualizing Media Bias through Twitter. Jisun An. University of Cambridge. Meeyoung Cha. KAIST. Krishna P. Gummadi. MPI-SWS et al – (PDF)
Mr. Bags x Longchamp: How to Make 5 Million RMB in Just Two Hours | Jing Daily
It’s time that we talk about micro-influencers